This year marks the twenty-fourth time I will have had the opportunity as a pastor to lead a congregation through Holy Week. Over the course of those years I led a service that began in the midst of a cemetery in the foothills of North Carolina. I participated in an Easter Vigil in suburban Washington, D.C. that watched the clock turn past midnight on Easter morning. I paraded with a Paschal Candle down a central city, urban street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The weeks and days leading up to Holy Week are taxing on the life of a pastor. But Holy Week itself is an opportunity to walk through and reenact the most holy days of history. The week begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry in to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It continues with Maundy Thursday as Jesus washes the feet of His disciples and institutes His Holy Supper. We then follow Him through prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, trial before Pontius Pilate, and crucifixion on Good Friday’s cross. On Saturday we wait and watch at the tomb. Then Sunday surprises with the most joyful mystery of all mysteries: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Holy Week isn’t just for pastors. It’s for everyone. Missing even part of it is to miss the fullness of the story and the overwhelming grace that floods through it.
Here are five things to do as you get ready for Holy Week:
- Reflect. As we enter this week we will be focusing on the greatest sacrifice the world has ever known. The sinless Son of God willingly goes to the cross to suffer the punishment for all of sinful humanity. Use this weekend to reflect on your own sin and need of a Savior. Reflect on the incredible love poured out for you by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Reflect on the kind of love it takes to forgive such sinners. Reflect on the way your life has been changed by a forgiving God.
- Pray. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed so hard and so fervently that drops as of blood dripped from His forehead. He asked His heavenly Father to deliver Him from the pain and suffering He was about to face. Yet in the end He prayed, “Thy will be done.” That simple four-word prayer is worth praying this weekend as you prepare for Holy Week. Ask God to do His will in your life as you hear once again the account of all it took to win your salvation.
- Participate. Make plans to participate in all of the Holy Week services where you live: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. You can’t have one without the other. It takes them all to tell the whole story. And each worship service has something unique to give to you as an individual. If you’ve never done it before, give it a try and see just how enriching it is.
- Listen. As you prepare for Holy Week make sure you head into it with a commitment to listen. Listen carefully to the cries of the crowd on Palm Sunday. Listen thoroughly to Jesus’ words as He speaks to His disciples in the Upper Room instituting His Supper. Listen intently to Jesus’ seven “words” from the cross. Listen at the Easter Vigil to the history of the world’s salvation and the history of your own salvation. Listen with wide open ears as “alleluias” come shouting out of the empty tomb.
- Rejoice. Much of Holy Week is sad, reflective, and somber. But beneath it all is a spirit of rejoicing: rejoicing in all that it took to procure forgiveness; rejoicing in all that it took to pour out grace; rejoicing in all that it took to wash away sin and deliver the gift of eternal life. It’s OK to hold it back just a bit until Easter Sunday. But on that Day don’t hold back one bit. Let the shouts of joy ring out.
One side note: If you’ve never participated in an Easter Vigil do your best to seek one out this year. The service contains four parts: The Service of Light, The Service of the Word, The Service of Holy Baptism, and the Service of Holy Communion. It is the very center of the Church Year Cycle. It is an experience that takes you from darkness to light and death to life. Give it a try. You will be blessed.
How will you observe Holy Week this year?